Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Let us make hay while the sun shines."

The Report of the Change Commission, Advancing Change Together: A Time to Act, if it is given appropriate play at Convention has the potential to make the Convention a "Convention about something" after all.

The report is the first seen in many a year that is about real renewal and change. And, about what plain, old, average members of the Party really think about what needs to be done to return our Party to movement status; about changing our deportment in front of the electorate, but more importantly in front of US. Changing the culture of our Party.

The report develops into a story what Quixotique and many members of the Party have been thinking and saying for quite a while. We care deeply about the Party and its values. We care less for how remote we have become. I cannot link to the document yet as it is on En Famille, but not the LPC website (yet)...so I will attempt to help in the telling of the story through some copy and pasted quotes (and my own emphases in bold).

“... The central objective of reform should be to enhance the party’s capacity to perform its core functions, and the key to doing that in our view is to put the sidelined membership of the party back on centre ice.

We also need leadership from leaders. From the top of the party, from the caucus and the parliamentary leadership, from the National and PTA Executives, and from the staff, and, closer to home, from EDA Presidents and Executive officers, members should hear recognition of the difficulties facing the party and a powerful commitment to renewal or reform. There is a need for inspiring language that will reassert the importance of the membership. Likewise members need to hear an affirmation of foundational values and a commitment to honour the constitution. Members will need to see all levels of the party working together on this. The Leader’s message of unity is very timely for the project of renewal. For members from east and west, north and south, the urban centres and the rural ridings, new Canadians and Aboriginal Peoples, unity means that everyone has a sense of belonging and being valued. What starts with the party membership will spread to Canadians as a whole – the Liberal Party of Canada will be the party of unity and belonging. “

“We believe, as you do, that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to rebuild from the ‘bottom up.’ It is clear that we must ensure the culture of the Liberal Party of Canada is not ‘top down’ but has a genuine respect for the values, ideas, and the contributions of time and energy of its members and supporters in the trenches. Liberal Party members and candidates in all 308 ridings in this country must feel that they are valued and can play a role in winning back the Canadian people’s confidence of in our party. But it is also clear that culture change has to be more than reassuring rhetoric.

Any revitalization of the party structure must embody our Liberal principles... The core definition appears in the Preamble to our Constitution... The participants in our consultations across Canada made frequent reference to these core values, calling for the party to champion and embody transparency, openness, inclusiveness, high ethical standards, engagement in communities, social responsibility and fairness, a focus on human rights, fiscal responsibility, international orientation, listening to the grassroots, and treating people – members of the party and members of the public – with dignity and respect.”

The isolation of party members from policy input is a major factor contributing to cynicism. Yet the pathway to better finances lies right through this territory. As one member stated in an online contribution, “As a Canadian and a Liberal, I am not going to be inclined to lend financial assistance if there’s no 2-way dialogue between me and the party. There has to be a motivation, one has to feel as though he has a stake in the direction the party takes.” The party’s current experiment in policy development for the Biennial Convention has shown promise but it will need to be reviewed in terms of how well it succeeds in allaying the cynicism of members who wish to contribute. In an analysis of the present system, Ron Hartling, a wel lregarded party volunteer and the founder of En Famille, suggests that it does not provide sufficient opportunity for reasoned debate. There is no systematic process for engaging subject matter experts or drawing in information about the policy context that could be helpful in shaping sound proposals. We must continue to develop mechanisms, online and through meetings, to enable members to contribute their concerns, insights and knowledge to the party’s policy development process. ...

Review of the policy process. A review of the policy process should be undertaken with these objectives in mind, aiming toward the substantive re-engagement of interested members and Canadians in the process and respecting the provisions of the Liberal constitution. The National Policy and Platform Committee could review and recommend to National Executive a new process whereby party members can vote on policy issues between conventions. More specifically, we recommend that the policy development process should be done both online and by mail for those who do not have internet access. The party website should contain an explanation on how the party policy process works and how members can get involved.

Recommendation 36: Policy process review. A review of the policy process should be undertaken by the National Policy and Platform Committee.

Use as many resolutions as possible. No matter what the process, the party’s election platform must use as many party resolutions as possible – otherwise the policy process is meaningless. This has been a source of considerable disillusionment in the past.

Recommendation 37: party resolutions in the platform. Every effort must be made to maximize the number of party resolutions in the election platform.”

“Liberals want their values to infuse the party, but they also want these values to be reflected in the formal processes which shape the party and facilitate its performance. Along with the formal policy development mechanisms, members wish to see all aspects of party governance become fully transparent, accountable and responsive. ...

Any issues with our Executive are not restricted to transparency and accountability to the members. There is a general lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities in the party. This applies not only to components of the structure manned by full-time staff but also to various volunteer based committees and task forces, of which there seem to be a lot.”

“The problems identified with the party structures were not simply matters of pure organization. Participants spoke about the need to increase the level of trust between different elements of the party; for instance between EDAs and PTAs, or between PTAs and the National Office. ...

Perhaps the most important issue of trust concerns the feelings of the broad membership about their place in the party. The Constitution states that a fundamental purpose of the party is to “provide a forum for members... to have their say and influence the policies and platform of the party.” Many members who communicated with us do not feel that they are being provided with the opportunities that are their right under the constitution. They have been disenfranchised. This in turn has not build the necessary amount of trust within the party. Linda Julien expressed the desire for change during our consultation in Laval: “Activists cannot be used as instruments for the party; the party must be the instrument for its members.”

Disenfranchisement has had far-reaching effects. As Tim Roy of Wild Rose put it: “The most critical challenge facing the party is the disenfranchisement that grass roots members feel with the party Executive and elected members. I believe this has resulted in party members becoming inactive due to their realization that they have very little input into policy formulation. It’s also meant they’ve held back on their regular financial contributions, which is evidenced by the current incredibly low number of regular contributors to party coffers.” "

Too often, the constitutional procedures of the Party are neglected, only adding to the distrust and frustration. The issue most frequently raised during our Commission’s consultation in Laval was the need for the Party and its executives to observe the constitution.

Our Party must work hard, not just to update our Constitution, but to ensure it is respected by PTAs, EDAs and the membership, and that every assistance is given to ensure that it can be, and is, followed. Members felt very strongly that infractions should entail consequences.”

“Nominations and Appointments Committee. We recommend that the National Executive form a Nominations and Appointments Committee to review the procedure and to monitor these processes in the future. This committee could look at the determination of winnable and unwinnable ridings. It could also be involved in debriefs from unheld ridings, the determination of the viability of the losing candidates, and the mechanisms of incumbent protection.

Candidates who do not win elections should have a serious conversation with the riding association as soon as possible after the election. The sooner a decision is taken the better. An early decision for the candidate to stay will allow the candidate to work to maintain their presence in the riding, helping maintain and rebuild the EDA in an unheld riding. those ,for whom there was ‘ not a fit’, be able to get on with their lives and decide how they can best make their contribution to the party.”

If you are going to the convention, please review this report before you go. Chat with your fellow delegates before you go and with your riding president if they are not going. Come with a mandate and participate in these discussions on real, true renewal and culture change.

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